Don't reverse Dix park deal

March 26, 2013 

So now we’ll find out if House Republicans with an eye on killing Raleigh’s chance to make a spectacular park out of property near downtown that long served Dorothea Dix mental hospital really care what the public thinks. Because on Monday, several hundred people jammed a meeting room in the Legislative Office Building to be heard, the vast majority of them in favor of a long-term lease Raleigh signed with the state for the Dix land, 300-plus acres. The Wake County delegation was the host.

Former Gov. Perdue did the deal, in which Raleigh will pay $500,000 a year plus small increases every year, for a 75-year lease. That will bring the state $68 million. The destination park near downtown that would be enjoyed not just by citizens of Raleigh but by hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians coming to their Capital City.

What’s wrong? Perdue is a Democrat, and Republicans bent on revenge want to eliminate any possibility of a positive legacy. This is petty partisanship at its worst.

And Republicans’ words about getting a better deal for the state, about Perdue arranging a sweetheart lease that hurt state revenues and the mentally ill, are undermined by actions they’ve taken since assuming control on Jones Street.

Change of heart?

Those Republicans now so concerned about the integrity of the deal are the same ones who tried to ram through a Voter ID bill to protect the state against voter fraud, even though there’s very little voter fraud. They gave up over $300 million in revenue with a tax break for small business that carelessly extended the break to big-ticket attorneys in huge firms and others who didn’t need it. They want to repeal the estate tax, which would cost the state $52 million a year (and affect few people). They allowed a temporary sales tax to die that cost the state over $800 million.

And these are the people worried about Raleigh getting too good a deal on the Dix lease?

Then there’s the claim that the deal is bad for the mentally ill, and would deny needed revenue for treatment. Again, a curious criticism from Republicans who rejected a deal with the federal government to extend the Medicaid health care program for the poor to hundreds of thousands of people, at no cost to the state, and who also nixed extended unemployment money for the unemployed, another benefit the federal government would have paid.

It’s hard to see them suddenly standing as champions of compassion for the mentally ill. And it’s within their power to do more for those people anyway, as they hold the state purse.

Clear thinking

Whether they’re members of the Wake delegation or have come to Raleigh from deep in the mountains, legislators should pay heed to the protests well-articulated Monday by supporters of the Dix land deal. (The State Senate passed a bill nixing the contract Tuesday; it now moves to the House. Wake Republicans, thankfully, voted with Democrats against the Senate action.) That assumes they care about feedback from constituents. The speakers noted that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve property near downtown.

Of course, that’s not unanimous, as two former Triangle mayors, now both Wake County commissioners, have shown. Joe Bryan of Knightdale and Paul Coble of Raleigh both want the Dix deal undone. That’s astonishing and deplorable, particularly in the case of Coble. It’s also informative as to the truth of the nix-Dix movement. It isn’t about the mentally ill, and it isn’t about getting a better deal for state taxpayers.

It’s about partisan antipathy for Perdue, and a high-and-mighty attitude on the part of Republicans in the General Assembly that they will do whatever they want, simply because they can.

Sorry, that reason isn’t good enough. At least, it shouldn’t be.

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